KABUL: The United States has carried out airstrikes in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province after a fatal insider attack, leaving at least 14 civilians dead, mostly women and children.
A spokeswoman for the American military, confirmed the Saturday airstrikes, but blamed the Taliban militant group for the civilian deaths. “The Taliban were hiding in civilian homes and maneuvered in and out of compounds without any concern for the families living inside,” said Sgt. 1st Class Debra Richardson.
The attack came a day after two US soldiers and four Afghan troops were killed during a joint operation in Gul Tepa, a district on the outskirts of Kunduz city.
According to the New York Times on Sunday, the latest episode began after an armored vehicle used by US troops broke down as they were heading to a security checkpoint. When the soldiers got out to fix the vehicle, an Afghan soldier described by officials as a Taliban insider opened fire on them.
The US forces reportedly fired back at the assailant, “and Afghan soldiers stationed in a nearby outpost returned fire at them, not realizing what had happened,” the newspaper quoted a local commander as saying. Richardson said the Americans called in air raids, which killed 12 civilians and six soldiers.
Nangayalay, a local police commander in the area, said 14 members of a large refugee family were killed in one of the aerial attacks that hit their house. The American bombs also hit the Afghan outpost, leaving between four to eight soldiers dead, according to varying estimates.
Safiullah Amiri, deputy head of the Kunduz provincial council, said four Afghan troops and 14 civilians lost their lives in the raids. Local officials said at least eight children and four women were among those who lost their lives in the airstrikes. Civilian casualties from aerial attacks conducted by US forces have surged across Afghanistan over the past few months.
The United States has recently stepped up its air raids in an attempt to exert pressure on the Taliban to accept a negotiated end to its 18-year insurgency. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 649 civilians casualties as a result of aerial attacks in the first nine months of last year, the highest number in any year since systematic recording began in 2009.
Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end in the wake of a US-led invasion in 2001, but the militant group still continues to attack government and civilian targets as well as foreign forces. The administration of US President Donald Trump is now negotiating with the Taliban group, excluding the Kabul government.